The Lego Movie came together at an ideal point in the history of the iconic building blocks, right when popularity was toned-down toward both the toys themselves and the brand's humorous videogame adaptations -- tie-ins -- of popular movies. Instead of delivering one of those run-of-the-mill products that functions as a kid-friendly outing designed just to sell toys, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller built something that mixed genuine sentiments about individual importance with psychedelic visuals and a colorful sense of humor, borrowing the aesthetic and jubilance of the games and ramping it up several levels. That irreverence, along with the clever use of other properties under WB's umbrella, made The Lego Movie something special, and it's that same attitude that Robot Chicken director Chris McKay hopes to bring into the second big-screen adventure from that universe: The LEGO Batman Movie. Playful, loveable self-reference isn't enough this time, though, as McKay's take on the Bat-universe dials up the bravado without showing mindfulness toward how inexplicably bonkers it can come across.
Batman played a critical role in the initial LEGO Movie, helping lead characters Emmet and Wyldstyle (his girlfriend) save the world from the oppressive big bad Business and a dearth of creativity in their realm. Aside from a continuation of this version of the character himself, there aren't any real connections between that story and the events of Lego Batman Movie, one that begins with the Caped Crusader -- again played by Will Arnett -- duking it out with the full breadth of Gotham's rogues gallery, led by Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Similarly to Joel Schumacher's installments into the Batman canon during the ‘90s, a vibrant and chaotic introductory scheme interrupted by Batman gears and focuses upon a personal side of the brooding hero: the fact that when he gets home from fighting crime, he does so alone. In a state of Gotham City where the commissioner calls into question the necessity for his vigilantism, Batman starts to confront his separation from allies and friends, growing complicated when he gives orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) a home. Will this new sidekick help or hinder Batman from preventing whatever scheme that The Joker's hatching?
Fans of the Caped Crusader who watched The Lego Movie will come in armed with the knowledge that this version of Batman should be taken entirely tongue-in-cheek, but that's something Bat-fans who skipped out on Emmet's awesome adventure could find unusual and might require some adjusting to it. This one's a self-absorbed, credit-hogging showboat with little difference between his personality in the suit and the rare times where he dons the appearance of Bruce Wayne, keeping him from being a reliable shadow of, well, pretty much any iteration of the character throughout his lore. In smaller cameo-serving doses, this works, coupled with Will Arnett's grumbly voice and how he projects similarly to his goofy magician Gob Bluth from Arrested Development. There's a different sort of audience coming to see his standalone movie, though, and the more adult-minded Batman fans might find him too out-of-character, too dissimilar of a lampoon, to enjoy beyond the kid-friendly shenanigans that his attitude creates. This Batman swoops right past parody and into the realm of a different character altogether.
This builds into an odd situation within The LEGO Batman Movie, because a whole lot of Chris McKay's intentions are devoted to representing the annals of Batman's history, and these flashes are an enthusiastic joy to behold. From quick Lego-infused representations spanning from the first comic appearance in the ‘40s to Christopher Nolan's trilogy, to the inclusion of a lot of esoteric villains following the Joker around -- The Condiment King, anyone? -- this film offers a trove of references that'll put a smile on the faces of Batman aficionados of all stripes. This makes it even harder to embrace the silly deviations of the plotting pieced together by five writers, spearheaded by Seth Grahame-Smith, the scribe responsible for the Dark Shadows remake and the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novel. A desire to be as different as possible in how it plays around with the Batman mythology, including the role Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) fills in overseeing Gotham City and how Dick Grayson ultimately came to live with Bruce Wayne, stumbles alongside the film's many lovingly crafted in-jokes.
The LEGO Batman Movie concentrates on a premise frequently touched upon in other takes on the character, shining a light on the Caped Crusader's desire to work alone and keep his personal ties to a minimum. There's meaningfulness involved with the message surrounding Batman's resistance to accepting help and letting others into his life (or lives), but they've been simplified and caricaturized for the sake of broader, sarcastic jabs at both Batman and the superhero genre, and it largely makes him look … well, like a big old narcissistic jerk instead of someone struggling with real reasons for keeping them at arm's length. Infused with zany mischief trying to duplicate the off-the-wall charm of The Lego Movie, the sense of humor here lands on a puzzlingly idiosyncratic note, gravitating around Batman's reluctant -- and initially unknowing -- adoption of a son and sidekick and a kooky spin on the hero's frenemy bond with The Joker. While aiming for playfully self-aware ridiculing of these elements, it gets its thoughtful wires crossed and overestimates the sharpness of its wit.
Still, most of the design choices that made the visuals and pacing of Lord and Miller's film such an infectious surprise can also be found on the toolbelt of The LEGO Batman Movie, where digital effects replicate the texture and movement of the actual building blocks within endlessly vibrant locations. Chaotic action throws Batman and Robin into crazy situations more befitting the Schumacher-directed movies and the Adam West television series than the more "grounded" scenarios of Burton and Nolan's entries, emphasizing the comic-book gravitas some fans may have missed in recent films. McKay never leaves the audience without something bold and exciting to look at, whether it's those aforementioned throwbacks to prior iterations of the character or the craftiness in how familiar (WB-owned) entities -- and some cleverly ambiguous ones, too -- show up in the midst of end-of-the-world pandemonium. By the end, however, unlike the original movie that it's spun off from, The LEGO Batman Movie leaves one basking in the mildly-amusing glow of its labored teasing and peculiarity than enlivened by awesomeness.
Video and Audio:
As a piece of digital animation that's both a spinoff of an Oscar-nominated film and a depiction of one of the most popular comic-book characters out there, it shouldn't come as a surprise that The LEGO Batman Movie makes for both a striking visual experience and a flawless Blu-ray presentation from WB in its 2.35:1-framed, 1080p treatment. There's a slightly darker atmosphere at work here than in The Lego Movie, as one would expect when dealing with Batman and his nighttime adventures, but that only serves to amplify the disc's rendering of depth and shadows, all of which are handled like a champ. Detail is immaculate, capturing scuffs, contours, and angles of the faux-block textures throughout. The real star of this show, however, is the phenomenal bursts of color scattered throughout, from candy-coated razzmatazz that appears throughout to more in-control palette choices in the Wayne Manor. Everything amounts to a vivid, stable, and endlessly attractive display that never loses the illusion of these being actual Lego blocks in motion.
In most aspects, The LEGO Batman Movie also functions as a full-blown action movie, complete with vigorous explosive sound effects -- as well as a few cute pew-pew gun sounds -- and an energized musical accompaniment. To say that the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD (Atmos) track and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track comes close to measuring up with the visual presentation should amount to an immense compliment, both for its bold resonance and its subtleties. The film is bookended by huge set-pieces involving sprawling threats to Gotham City, and it's in these moments that the track flexes its muscle the most, delivering hefty room-filling impact and a strong grasp on finer details. Subtler effects gain more emphasis in the slightly quieter sections in the middle, from the beeps of a microwave and the hums of energy waves the click-clack of bricks being put together on a dime, all of which are sharp and discerned against either quietness or well-balanced music. Dialogue is clean as a whistle, whether it's Michael Cera's higher-pitched voice, Rosario Dawson's midrange alto tempo as Barbara Gordon, or the gravelly rasp of Will Arnett's Batman. Aside from a few muffled, restrained effects and lighter use of surround channels, it's a fantastic pair of audiovisual presentations all around, as one can expect. English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are available.
An Audio Commentary with Cast and Crew leads the way for the more adult-centered extras for The LEGO Batman Movie. It's a fairly humdrum, perfunctory commentary that offers fleeting insights into the production -- the process of writing a song, how many digital blocks were involved in one setting, what elements LEGO weren't exactly onboard with at first -- which will give fans doses of info that they'll appreciate. The rhythm of the chat is very spread out and subdued in energy, though, especially when combined with a handful of quiet stretches here and there. It's an insightful but trying track for adults, and certainly will lose the attention of kids rather quickly.
WB have also included a series of Featurettes about The LEGO Batman Movie, front-and-center of them being One Brick at a Time: The Making LEGO Batman (16:10, 16x9 HD). It might be fairly standard operating procedure for one of the behind-the-scenes featurettes, but it really emphasizes the extent of the creativity involved and the fun that the cast had while making the film. Animated storyboards and voice-acting sessions offer great material between interviews with the full cast and characters; shots of Will Arnett and Zach Galifianakis in the studio are a lot of fun to watch, as are the rough-sketch versions of scenes from the movie. It also covers the "rules" of the LEGO universe and the lighting of the visual effects. This isn't to be confused with the other, more generic Brick by Brick: Making of The Lego Movie (3:50, 16x9 HD), which introduces watchers to the cast in a very audience-versatile fashion.
The other featurettes are brief and specific in nature: Rebrick Contest Winners (2:57, 16x9 HD) features Will Arnett introducing a trio of winners from a short-film contest featuring Batman and his rogues gallery, spliced within scenes from the film of Batman lounging in a home theater; Inside Wayne Manor (2:36, 16x9 HD) playfully features Batman and Bruce Wayne showing off their pad in a style reminiscent of MTV Cribs; Behind the Brick (4:13, 16x9 HD) features Batman and other characters from the movie talking in behind-the-scenes type of interviews, in character, about the making of the movie; and Me and My Minifigs (:57, 16x9 HD) features Will Arnett playing with the designs of his character from the film in LEGO mini-figuring fashion.
WB have also included a series of Animated Shorts (7:30, 16x9 HD) featuring Batman and other characters from the universe in fairly silly pint-sized cartoons, an arrangement of wisely-abandoned Deleted Scenes (7:00, 16x9 HD), and a slew of Promotional Material including three full-length Trailers and other associated bits. Finally, they've also included The Master: A NinjaGO Short (5:23, 16x9 HD), which offers an amusing look at LEGO's take on a martial-arts/Asian setting. WB have also included a DVD Copy and a Digital Copy slip for the film.
The Lego Movie set a fairly high bar for what Warner's animation department can accomplish with their faux stop-animation design, so expectations naturally might run high for The LEGO Batman Movie, which shines the spotlight on that film's embellished rendition of the superhero. Along with the dazzling visual language that transforms digital blocks into authentic-looking renderings of stuff that could be created by hand, a lot of love went into the many references present throughout the film, emerging around Batman's battles with The Joker, with being an adopted parent to Robin, and with his insistence of being a lone wolf vigilante. While frequently amusing and grin-inducing with its callbacks -- and quite kid-friendly -- the storytelling and characterization push too hard for self-aware zaniness to fully enjoy what's going on, amounting to a spoof that veers too far away from what it's spoofing to be as effective as it should be. WB's Blu-ray looks and sounds pretty amazing, though, and a solid slate of special features earn this one a soft Recommendation.